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Xylitol - the safe sugar substitute


from the November 2003 Star Beacon


Ann Ulrich Miller

by Ann Ulrich Miller

    Months ago I discovered Xylitol while reading an article in Nexus New Times out of Australia by Sherrill Sellman, titled "Xylitol, Our Sweet Salvation?" I learned about this safe, natural alternative to sugar and grew more excited the more I read.

    During the second world war, Finland had a sugar shortage, so their scientists came up with an alternative, Xylitol, a low-calorie sugar made from birch bark. It had originally been manufactured in 1891 by a German chemist, but by 1930 had not yet been purified. The Finnish researchers stabilized it and made it a viable sweetener in foods. Thatís also when they discovered Xylitolís insulin-independent nature, meaning it metabolizes in the body without using insulin - good news for diabetics.

    By the í60s, Xylitol was being used in Germany, Switzerland, the Soviet Union and Japan as the preferred sweetener for diabetics, and since then other countries have been producing Xylitol for their domestic markets, with remarkable health benefits. The U.S. and Australia have remained ignorant of Xylitol, most likely because cane sugar is cheap and plentiful where Xylitol is more expensive.

    Xylitol is actually produced naturally in our bodies (we make up to 15 grams of it daily during normal metabolism). It is a natural substance found in fibrous vegetables and fruit, corn cobs and hardwood trees such as birch. Although it tastes and looks exactly like sugar, its effect on the body is quite the opposite.

    Xylitol builds immunity, has anti-aging benefits, and protects against chronic degenerative disease. It is considered a five-carbon sugar, meaning it is antimicrobial and prevents the growth of bacteria. While sugar produces acid, Xylitol is alkaline enhancing. Other forms of sugar, including sorbitol, are six-carbon sugars which encourage dangerous bacteria and fungi.

    Xylitol was approved by the U.S. FDA in 1963 and has no known toxic levels. One discomfort that sensitive people may experience when first taking large amounts of Xylitol is mild diarrhea or slight cramping. But in my opinion, if you have a tendency toward being constipated, this is a benefit. The discomfort usually disappears within a few days as your body adjusts to a higher intake.

    There are 40 percent fewer calories with Xylitol and 75 percent fewer carbohydrates than sugar. The Xylitol is absorbed slower and results in negligable changes in insulin. While about one-third of the Xylitol is absorbed in the liver, the other two-thirds travel to the intestinal tract and are broken down by gut bacteria.

    Off hand you canít tell the difference between Xylitol and sugar. It comes in crystalline form and can replace sugar in cooking, baking, and as a sweetener for beverages. It is an ingredient in chewing gum, mints and nasal spray. In fact, I know of a product called "Xlear," which is excellent for those with sinus problems or allergies.

    The benefits Xylitol offers to dental health are nothing to ignore either. Excess sugar in our diets has played a major role in tooth decay and periodontal disease. Xylitol is a dentistís dream-come-true. It reverses the destructive effects of sugar and also inhibits plaque formation. This is because Xylitol does not ferment and therefore canít be converted to acids by oral bacteria. Using it before bedtime, after brushing and flossing, protects and heals teeth and gums. Unlike sugar, you can leave it on the teeth overnight without ill effects.

    Many young children suffer from recurring middle ear infections. All three of my sons, when they were very young, had tubes surgically inserted into their ear drums to reduce the fluid attempting to wash out the infection from their middle ears. This led to problems later on in at least one of them. One of Xylitolís benefits is in inhibiting growth of bacteria that cause middle ear infections in young children. A study involving more than 1,000 children showed that Xylitol-flavored chewing gum reduced the incidence of middle ear infections by 40 percent.

    It has been shown to inhibit Candida albicans (yeast infection) and other harmful gut bacteria such as H. pylori, which can cause periodontal disease, bad breath, gastric and duodenal ulcers and even stomach cancer.

    Reversing bone loss is a further example of Xylitolís benefits. Studies in Finland have found that Xylitol has a role in reversing osteoporsis. But perhaps diabetics have the most to gain from using this amazing substance. The dramatic rise in type-2 diabetes since the mid-1900s is due to an increased consumption of sugar. Xylitol is a natural insulin stabilizer, causing none of the abrupt rises and falls that occur with sugar. It may actually help stop sugar and carbohydrate cravings, which is good for people wanting to lose weight.

    There are several Web sites that sell Xylitol on the Internet, one of which is XylitolNow.com. Xylitol granules cost about $49 for an 8-lb. bag. Lesser quantities sell for slightly more per pound. They suggest you use the granules with sugar on a one-to-one basis. I have used the Xylitol granules 100 percent in baking cakes and pies, but notice that cookies do not come out with the right consistency without some sugar added.

    It is wonderful to know we have a choice between "White Death" (sugar) and "White Life" (Xylitol) without having to turn to Aspartame or other harmful alternatives on the market.



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